Wave rider reunion for former Westlife singer and Sligo surfing pals
Kian Egan and seven of his boyhood friends took to the surf in Fuertaventura for a week
The idea was a simple one: combine a reunion for a bunch of best mates who hadn’t seen each other in a while with something we all like to do: surf. There were eight of us in total: Andrew, Stephen, Peter, Allan, Keith, Kian, Barry and myself. We were an eclectic crew to be sure but the glue that binds us together is County Sligo – it is the one thing we all have in common. Myself, Peter, Allan, Andrew, Stephen, Barry and Kian all live and surf in Sligo and Keith has been coming on holidays to Sligo since he was four years old.
Allan Mullrooney masterminded the trip, and the Irish company surfholidays.com made it happen. Allan was my next door neighbour when I was growing up in Strandhill village – Sligo’s hidden gem. Growing up beside the beach it was envitable we would be drawn towards surfing. Each weekend we would have to beg our parents to come down to the beach to supervise us so we could surf.
Permanent fixtures in those early Strandhill days were the Kilfeather brothers, Andrew and Stephen. Andrew was the original Strandhill supergrom (a grom is a young surfer). He reached the European bodyboard finals aged 14 and won his first national bodyboard title at 16. His younger brother Stephen was groomed by his surfing uncles and quickly became a local surfing standout. Since then Stevo has matured into one of Ireland’s best shortboarders; he is the current Irish national champion. Allan, Andrew, Stephen and myself were all childhood friends along with Peter Martin (the video dude). Peter was a talented skater and through documenting the sport he loved he discovered that his talents lay in filmmaking.
Barry Mottershead is a South African who now calls Sligo his home. Barry showed up one day in Strandhill with his brother and basically never left. He is a big wave charger and the owner of a successful tour company, Sligo Kayak Tours. Keith Harkin is a mutual friend of ours from Donegal.
My first memory of meeting Keith in Strandhill is sitting around outside his parents caravan at the beach listening to him blasting out Led Zepplin covers on his acoustic guitar. Keith is a singer and guitarist with a strong following in the US. He is perhaps best known for his work with the critically acclaimed Celtic Thunder outfit but Keith has also produced two fine solo albums.
Last but not least is Kian Egan. In secondary school, Kian set up a band with his mates and one thing lead to another: the band changed its name to Westlife and suddenly they had a song at the top of the charts, then another and then another.
Seeing his band rack up record album sales must have been life changing for Kian; however, what happened next was perhaps even more life changing. About the time he met his wife-to-be, Jodie Albert, Kian walked in to the Perfect Day surf school on Strandhill Beach and the resulting surf lesson radically changed his life. Kian began bringing his new surfboard on tour; he would try and squeeze a surf in before a sold-out show or hang out afterwards at the beach.
Allan and Kian have known each other a long time, they grew up in the same housing estate. Allan was able to guide Kian into the world of surfing, which helped him escape the sometimes bewildering whirlwind of Westlife’s success.
To be honest, the first time I saw Kian pull up at the carpark at the beach to check the surf I thought to myself, “Who is this Westlife kook?”, but it didn’t take me long to realise he was a genuinely stoked surfer.
So, with the crew assembled we began our journey.
A hundred kilometres off the coast of Africa, Fuerteventura is the oldest of the Canary Islands as well as the second largest. Its 3,000 hours of sunshine a year makes it a premier destination for European tourists and a poplular and relatively low cost surf holiday destination.
We were met in the airport by Nathan, the owner of Wave Rider Villa in Corralejo, our plush pad for our stay. When we arrived at our villa we found that Nathan had kindly stocked the fridge with beer (muchas gracias).
We each found ourselves a room to throw our gear in and took the 15- minute walk to the mellow old town district of Corralejo for a bite to eat.
Soon, all eight of us were around a table digging into plates of tapas and large glasses of local beer.
As with the rest of the Canary Islands, the food is fairly basic, mainly because of the customs and the climate. They do a great Argentinian steak, and the seafood and fresh goat’s cheese served with a local twist is excellent.
Once the food was finished, the drinking envitably continued. Over beers we all remarked at how improbable it was that all eight of us could get together again for a surf trip. Friends are the family you can choose, and this trip was turning out to be one big family reunion.
The next morning when we eventually got the rental cars packed full of boards and equipment, we set off for Fuerteventura’s fabled North Shore, which starts in Correlejo on the Northeast corner of the island and finishes up in Cotillo on the Northwestern corner. We followed a bumpy dirt trail that took us past numerous surf spots. We bounced along the trail checking the spots, laughing at some of the stories from trips gone by.
We came across a decent point break and all piled in to get the first waves of the trip under our belts, before continuing on across the north trail until we got to Cotillo, a punchy beachbreak.
By this time the sun had risen, along with the temperature, and the whole crew just wanted to get in the water to cool off. The water back in Ireland was starting to turn cold enough to make your fingers hurt. Fuerteventura lies on the same latitude as Florida and Mexico, the weather was sunny everyday and the water was warm enough for board shorts – so no one was complaining. We visited Lajares, a pleasant and authentic Canarian town, for a post-surf coffee stop before heading back to HQ at Wave Rider villa for an evening surf.
While the waves were not always pumping, the craic was all-time. We found another pleasant restaurant and let the good times flow over food and beers. We also sampled the tasty Spanish red wine, and we all toasted Allan Mullrooney for suggesting this trip in the first place.
The next morning, the wind was calmer and the waves were bigger, making for excellent surfing conditions. That evening we got lucky and found the best wave on the North Shore. I paddled out and joined the friendly crowd of local surfers and bodyboarders. After waiting for my turn, I paddled for my first wave which turned out to be amazing.
As the tide dropped, the local crew filtered away and I got to surf this new spot by myself for half an hour before the tide got too low. The crew was cheering me as I got back to shore, but we were all starving and scrambled to a nearby cafe for dinner and a welcome beer.
For me it was the best day of the trip, and as I sat there and pushed my empty plate across the table and drained my beer, I was at once tired and delighted, one of those relatively rare surf moments when you are completely satisfied, at least for the time being.
Then we recieved a surprise phone call from Nathan saying he had arranged a catamaran to take us to Isla de Lobos, the home of one of the best waves in Fuerteventura. Sold! It was a nice break from routine to head to the port instead of the bumpy north trail, and exciting to be getting a trip on a lush catamaran.
The crew were welcoming and soon enough we had dropped anchor at Lobos. We all piled overboard to make the short paddle to the surf break where we all enjoyed some of the best waves of the entire trip.
When we got back on board we caught some rays on deck before our skipper surpised us with some bread, salad and potatoes with the signature Canarian mojo sauce, accompanied by sangria (which I drank to show my appreciation even though I hate the stuff). Before returning to port at Corralejo, the skipper brought us to a beautiful bay to go snorkeling.
Back at the villa, Nathan kindly invited us along to an end-of-the-week BBQ for his surf school at a local restaurant. The vibe was high among the group after a brilliant week together and we all got pretty amped on the idea of a big night out.
That night, we succeeded in making the next day as difficult as possible, although the most difficult thing about a surf trip is saying goodbye to all the mates you have made along the way.
But that is also what it is about – new friends, new connections, new experiences and a fresh outlook.
Keith was on his way to Ireland for a brief visit before heading to London to record a new album; Kian was returning to the UK to his wife and child; Allan had to get back to work in Dublin; and the rest of us had to limp our weary way back to Sligo. The fellowship was dissolved as quickly as it was formed.
Who knows if we will all get together as a group for a surf trip again?
Have you lost touch with childhood friends and would you like to meet up them again? Have you recently reunited and are there stories to tell? If so, we want to hear them and the most inspiring entry will win a weekend away for four friends in Strandhill, Co Sligo.
The prize which is organised by surfholidays.com and gostrandhill.com includes:
Two nights’ stay in Strandhill Lodge and Suites for four people including breakfast;
Four seaweed baths in Voya Seaweed Baths;
Lunch in Shells Cafe plus a copy each of Shells’ Surf Cafe Cookbook;
Dinner for four in The Venue Bar;
Four surf lessons from Strandhill Surf School
Kayaking for 4 with Sligo Kayak Tours;
Lunch in the Strand Bar.
To enter, click here and tell us the story of the reunion you would like to have and why, in 350 words or less.